US Forces Wound Freed Italian Hostage in Iraq Print E-mail
Fri Mar 4, 2005 03:25 PM ET

By Andrew Marshall

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena was freed by her captors on Friday but U.S. forces mistakenly opened fire on the convoy taking her to safety, wounding her and killing an Italian secret service agent.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said he had immediately summoned the U.S. ambassador, declaring someone had to take responsibility for U.S. soldiers opening fire.

He told a news conference the agent was shot dead at a U.S. checkpoint and that Sgrena had been wounded in the shoulder.

"This news which should have be a moment of celebration, has been ruined by this firefight," said Gabriele Polo, editor of the Communist Rome-based Il Manifesto newspaper.

"An Italian agent has been killed by an American bullet. A tragic demonstration which we never wanted that everything that's happening in Iraq is completely senseless and mad," he told Sky Italia television, struggling to fight back tears.

The U.S. military had no immediate comment.

The 57-year-old Sgrena was kidnapped on Feb. 4. Insurgents later released a video of her sobbing and wringing her hands as she pleaded for Italian troops to leave Iraq.

In new video aired on Al Jazeera on Friday, Sgrena was shown wearing a black dress and sitting in front of a table with a plate of fruit. Jazeera said that on the tape, Sgrena thanked her captors for treating her well.

Sgrena was one of two female Western journalists abducted in Baghdad this year. Florence Aubenas of France's Liberation was seized along with her Iraqi driver on Jan. 5.

Aubenas appeared in a videotape distributed by her captors this week, looking distraught and exhausted.

More than 150 foreigners, including several Western journalists, have been seized by insurgents over the past year. Most have been freed but many have been killed -- sometimes in beheadings that were filmed and posted on the Internet.

The kidnappings have highlighted the lawlessness gripping large areas of Iraq where insurgents mount frequent attacks, crime is rife and Iraqi forces have little control.

Last year, Italian journalist Enzo Baldoni was seized south of Baghdad and later killed by his captors.

Six other Italians have been kidnapped in Iraq. Four private security guards were kidnapped in April and one was later killed, and in September two female Italian aid workers were snatched in Baghdad before being released three weeks later.

The hostage crises have fueled criticism in Italy of the government's backing for the war in Iraq.

CAR BOMB, ASSASSINATION

Insurgents trying to overthrow Iraq's U.S.-backed government mounted fresh attacks on Friday. In Baquba, northeast of Baghdad, a car bomb killed one civilian, police said.

In the mainly Shi'ite southern Iraq town of Budair, the local police chief was assassinated. The Polish military, which is in charge of security in the area, said Colonel Ghaib Hadab Zarib was shot dead by gunmen armed with AK-47s.

In the restive northern city of Mosul, a car bomb exploded near a U.S. military convoy. Al Qaeda's wing in Iraq issued an Internet statement claiming responsibility for the blast and saying it was a suicide bombing. The U.S. military said it had no immediate information on any casualties.

In another Internet statement on Friday, the al Qaeda group in Iraq led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi said a string of suicide attacks in recent days disproved assertions by the Iraqi government that the network was crumbling.

"What happened ... and will happen in coming days is a response to infidel deceptions and claims that the mujahideen are weaker and that their attacks have abated," said the statement attributed to the military commander of the Al Qaeda Organization for Holy War in Iraq, Abu Aseed al-Iraqi.

On Monday, a suicide bomb for which the group claimed responsibility killed 125 people south of Baghdad -- the deadliest single insurgent attack since Saddam Hussein fell.

The group also said it carried out two suicide bombings in Baghdad on Thursday in a bid to assassinate the interior minister. The minister was unhurt but five police were killed.

Iraq's government says it has captured several key al Qaeda leaders and the net is closing on Zarqawi.

But the group's Internet statement was defiant. "Iraq's plains and deserts have turned into volcanoes erupting beneath the infidels and all around them," it said. "We call on all Muslims who cherish their faith to strike with the sword." (Additional reporting by Firouz Sedarat in Dubai and Roberto Landucci in Rome)